Sep 042014
 

EDITH HOWIE – Murder for Tea. Contained in the 3-in-1 omnibus volume Three Prize Winners. Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1941. No editor stated. Foreword by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Also published by T. V. Boardman, UK, paperback, 1942.

   The other two books in this scarce volume are Old-Fashioned Murder by Marguerite McIntire, and Westbound Murder by C. S. Wallace. The only copy offered for sale on abebooks.com right now, for example, is being offered at a rather steep $75 price tag. When I spotted one on Amazon last month for $20, I snapped it right up.

   What the three books have in common, you might ask, is that they were all “losers” in the second year of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Mystery Contest. Well, it says “Honorable Mention” in the lower right corner of the book’s front cover, so it’s clear that none of the three were winners.

   So who did get the top prizes? Mary Roberts Rinehart’s foreword tells us that the contest was open only to first time authors. Getting the honor of having their novels published in stand-alone volumes were A. R. Hilliard with Justice Be Damned, and Carolyn Coffin with a book entitled Mare’s Nest. Hilliard (male) wrote only one more work of crime fiction, Outlaw Island (1942), and also so did Carolyn Coffin, that one being Dogwatch (1944).

   Of the runners-up, this was the only work of crime and detective fiction that either McIntire or Wallace (male) managed to get published. In some sense, that makes Howie the real winner, as she went on to write six additional detective novels. A list will be provided later.

   At the moment I don’t know how long this contest continued, but I can tell you who the winners were for 1940: Clarissa Fairchild Cushman (I Wanted to Murder), Ione Sandberg Shriber (Head Over Heels in Murder), Elizabeth Daly (Unexpected Night) and Frank Gruber (The French Key, reviewed here by Jeff Meyerson). I believe, but I am not sure, that all four books were published individually.

   A couple of those authors’ names I’m sure everyone will recognize.

   As for Murder for Tea, I enjoyed it, most of it, that is. I wonder why Howie didn’t make a series with the two leading characters in this one. Shawn Cosgraeve, a six foot black Irishman with a temper to boot, is a mystery writer. Telling the story is his wife of three years standing, Kit, who didn’t make it in New York as a musician niy did find a husband whom she can manage very well, most of the time.

   It takes three years to convince Shawn to take a trip back to her home town of Nashiona, somewhere in the American midwest, not too far from Chicago. From here I’ll quote from page 172:

    “Then what was he doing in Lower Town?” the Sergeant demanded. “Oh, I know there ain’t an answer. Hell! I’m sick of this whole screwy case, Look at it! A woman gets poisoned while a couple hundred people stand around and nobody knows who done it nor why nor even where the poison could have come from. Then a man’s killed and safe’s blown while people wonder what was the noise and a bunch of dopes stand around to watch the guys who did it flop in their car and drive off. And that ain’t all!” The Sergeant flapped his hands despairingly. “We got another murder and a brace of threatening letters and a mess of jewelry that you don’t know whether or not it’s going to be real or phony the next time you see it–” It was too much. He dropped his head and remained sunk in a misery beyond all expressing.

   Kit’s problem is that all of the suspects are friends of hers and their husbands and wives. She knows them from before, but she soon discovers that she doesn’t know them now very much at all — and one of them, the killer, not at all.

   On the overall scale of things, the story takes place in the upper middle class of a small town. The prospects of an upcoming war are not mentioned at all.

   One huge drawback to the story is the Had I But Know aspect of Kit’s story, told some time well after all of the events in had taken place. One wonders if that is what might have caught the judges’ eyes. The other drawback is that when the killer’s identity is revealed I discovered that it didn’t really much matter who it was. Picking a name from a hat may have produced the very same reaction.

   Nonetheless, it might have been instructive to see if Edith Howie could have thought of another situation to place her two leading characters in, to give them a chance of cracking another case. Even though it’s a detective story through and through, this one may have been a little too personal.

    Bibliography: EDITH HOWIE (1900-1979).

Murder for Tea. Farrar, 1941.
Murder for Christmas. Farrar, 1941.

Murder at Stone House. Farrar, 1942.
Murder’s So Permanent. Farrar, 1942.
Cry Murder. Mill, 1944.
The Band Played Murder. Mill, 1946.

No Face to Murder. Mill, 1946.

Note: For more about the author and a review of Murder for Christmas, check out what Curt Evans has to say over on his blog.

 Posted by at 5:25 pm
Aug 282014
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   In the years I’ve written these columns, death has overtaken a number of mystery-writing colleagues to whom I’ve said goodbye here. Till this month, all of them have been older than I. Now it falls to me to commemorate one who was more than five years younger. That is scary.

   On August 14, in Pompano Beach, Florida, a man who ranked with the finest private-eye writers of his time, and was a friend of mine for more than twenty-five years, shot himself to death. Jeremiah Healy was 66.

   The last time I saw him was in the fall of 2011, at the St. Louis Bouchercon. He looked fantastic, a trim handsome dude with thick gray hair and mustache and a beautiful girlfriend and (in his own words) the body of a 19-year-old paratrooper. He brought to mind a character in a radio soap opera my mother listened to when I was a small child, a fellow who, whenever asked how he was doing, would reply “Sittin’ on top o’ the world.”

   Why Jerry took his own life I won’t discuss except to say that, unknown to me, he’d been battling prostate cancer and clinical depression and alcoholism and perhaps other dark forces for years. In the magnificent words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge him?

   Like me, he was a law professor. When his career as a crime novelist began, he and I were the only mystery writers who had come to the genre from legal academia. In PI fiction it was the age of Robert B. Parker and of regionalism. Like Parker’s Spenser, Healy’s PI John Francis Cuddy was a jogger and amateur chef who lived and worked in Boston, a city he knew well and described almost like a human character.

   Parker I suppose was the Hertz of the area’s mystery writers and Healy the Avis, but for a variety of reasons — two of them no doubt because we shared the same day job and got to be friends — I always preferred Jerry‘s books over Parker’s. Spenser was single and Cuddy a widower who often visited his wife’s gravesite, and spoke to her, and was, or thought he was, answered.

   (Several widowers in movies directed by John Ford also spoke to their wives but never had dialogue with them. I once asked Jerry if he’d gotten the idea from Ford but he said he hadn’t.)

   One of Parker’s lasting innovations was to put his protagonist in a monogamous relationship with one woman, and as the death of Cuddy’s wife faded in time he followed in Spenser’s footsteps with Susan Silverman by getting monogamously involved with a female prosecutor.

   Healy’s first novel, Blunt Darts (1984), struck me as very good but perhaps too much in the shadow of Ross Macdonald. The New York Times called it one of the seven best mysteries of its year. His second, The Staked Goat (1986), I thought one of the finest PI novels I’d ever read. Almost thirty years after its publication I still say it belongs on any sensible short list of the great books of the genre since the death of Lew Archer’s creator.

***

   Number four in the series, Swan Dive (1988), begins with Cuddy obliging a lawyer friend by agreeing to bodyguard Hanna Marsh, who has left her sadistic husband and is seeking both a divorce and the luxurious marital home.

   Roy Marsh, not only a wife-beater and womanizer but a cocaine dealer on the side, tries to persuade Hanna to drop the suit by disembowelling their daughter’s cat. Cuddy goes outside the law to teach Roy a lesson in litigation etiquette, but a few nights later when Roy and a hooker are murdered in a fleabag hotel, all the evidence points to Cuddy, who is menaced not only by the police but by Roy’s coke-dealing compadres hunting for a missing shipment of their stock in trade.

   Healy carefully balances whodunit and mean-streets elements, skillfully draws characters (many of whom speak Ethnic English, a trademark in this series), gives us the usual sharply observed tour of metro Boston, and even imparts some movement to Cuddy’s long-stalled relationship with the lovely assistant D.A. whom at this point in the saga he refuses to sleep with out of loyalty to his dead wife.

   Yesterday’s News (1989) brings Cuddy to the decaying port city of Nasharbor, where a woman reporter on the local paper supposedly committed suicide less than twelve hours after hiring him to look into the murder of one of her confidential sources, a petty porn merchant claiming inside knowledge of police corruption.

   It’s a briskly paced and tightly constructed novel, bringing to life a number of social and professional environments, with richly varied characters and relationships and sleazoid dialogue in the manner of George V. Higgins punctuated by short bursts of action.

***

   You could never have guessed from Jerry’s first five novels that he was a law professor or even the holder of a law degree. It was only with Cuddy’s sixth full-length case that his creator’s two careers came together.

   The title of Right to Die (1991) perfectly captures its theme. Cuddy is brought to the not totally fictitious Massachusetts Bay Law School to investigate a string of obscene anonymous notes to Maisy Andrus, a fiery law prof who not only publicly advocates legalized euthanasia but admits that she euthanized her dying first husband, a wealthy Spanish doctor, and got away with it. (Why she wasn’t extradited to Spain to stand trial, and even got to keep all the property her husband left her, are questions I fear are never adequately answered.)

   In the first 150 pages more notes keep popping up and Cuddy goes around interviewing various people with ideological or personal reasons for hating Andrus’ guts, among them a black female minister, a Catholic pro-life fanatic, a Jewish doctor and a neo-Nazi skinhead. The suspects are well drawn and each of them mounts a soapbox on which to orate on issues of life and death.

   Things heat up in later chapters, but the climax leaves more nagging questions unanswered. And anyone who can swallow Healy’s biggest credibility sandwich, which consists of our middle-aged PI finishing the 26-mile Boston Marathon four days after getting out of Massachusetts General Hospital with a slug in the hip, is a veritable Dagwood.

   Jerry told me that a doctor at Harvard Medical School vouched for the possibility, saying that a bullet would have done Cuddy less harm than the flu, but I still don’t buy it.

   Chapter 5 of Right to Die ought to be required reading even for those in legal education who don’t enjoy mysteries. Cuddy, a Vietnam veteran and law-school dropout, visits Andrus’ Ethics and Society class and is exposed once again to that bete noir of jurisprudence, the so-called Socratic Method.

   Maisy Andrus’ classroom style, says Cuddy, “reminded me of a black Special Forces captain in basic training who ran the TTIS, the Tactical Training of the Individual Soldier, the most miserable obstacle course I ever experienced.”

   For the next several pages we see the Method in action: Kingsfieldesque bullying, rapid-fire cross-examination of hapless students, hypotheticals straight out of the classic police torture scene from Dirty Harry. Later in Andrus’ office she justifies the Method and her dispassionate use of it. Cuddy dissents.

   “I think torture is a serious matter. I think you do your students a disservice by abstracting it and then making it seem they have no way out of an intellectual puzzle.”

   “Have you ever witnessed torture, Mr. Cuddy?”

   I thought back to the basement of the National Police substation in Saigon. Suspected Viet Cong subjected to bamboo switches, lit cigarettes, telephone crank boxes, and wires. Walls seeping dampness, the mixed stench of body wastes and disinfectants, the screams….

   “Mr. Cuddy?”

   “No, Professor, I’ve never seen torture.”

   The sequence has nothing to do with the plot, but some of the best scenes in Healy’s previous books and especially in The Staked Goat aren’t tied to a storyline either. Standing on its own, this chapter is at once the most even-handed and the most riveting evocation of Socratic Method that I’ve ever encountered in a novel. And yes, that specifically includes The Paper Chase, to which we owe the legendary Professor Kingsfield.

***

   Shallow Graves (1992) comes closer to joining the PI novel and the classic detective tale than any other Healy book I’ve read. The insurance company which once bounced Cuddy for refusing to approve a phony claim hires him back as a freelance to look into the strangulation of Mau Tim Dani, an exotic and rising young fashion model of Sicilian and Vietnamese descent, whose life had been insured by her financially shaky agency for half a million dollars.

   The trouble starts when Cuddy discovers that the dead woman’s Sicilian side, her father and his kin, are Mafia; indeed that her granddad is the Godfather of metro Boston. Healy neatly divides our suspicions among a small cast of characters, offers portraits of the worlds of modeling, advertising and organized crime, and holds tension high despite an almost complete absence of violence.

   He keeps descriptions to a minimum and relies on long Q&A sequences not only to convey plot points but, as is his wont, to showcase several varieties of ethnically flavored English, from Vietnamese to Japanese to Sicilian to black. Anyone who beats Cuddy to the killer’s identity will have done better than I.

   Foursome (1993) takes Cuddy north to rural Maine, where three of the title’s quartet have been slaughtered in their lakeside retreat (very much like Jerry’s own, which I once had the pleasure of visiting) by a crossbow-wielding killer, with Cuddy’s client, the sole survivor of the four, having been charged with triple murder.

   Trying to flush out a credible alternate suspect, Cuddy finds several Mainers and even more folks back in metro Boston who might have wanted one, some or all of the foursome out of the way.

   This time I spotted the culprit long before Cuddy, mainly because I had come to know intimately how Jerry thought and worked. But he paints in vivid colors the pristine beauty of Maine and the big city’s mean streets and suburbs, skillfully characterizes a huge variety of people through Cuddy’s Q&A with them, and breaks up the interrogations with spurts of raw violence, making this longest of Healy’s novels to that point by all odds one of his best.

***

   There’s hardly need to go on, and besides I’m running out of space. Jerry’s legacy to readers consists of 13 Cuddy novels, two collections of Cuddy short stories, three legal thrillers about Boston attorney Mairead O’Claire, and two stand-alone novels.

   His legacy to those who were lucky enough to know him and be his friends is priceless. The countless Web comments on his death share a single leitmotif: what a kind, generous, giving man he was, how supportive and helpful to newer writers. He wasn’t Jewish, but if ever there were a living embodiment of the word mensch it was Jerry Healy. God, what a loss.

 Posted by at 12:14 am
Aug 262014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


MELISA C. MICHAELS – Through the Eyes of the Dead. Walker, hardcover, 1988. Worldwide Library, reprint paperback, 2000.

   Science-fiction writer Melisa C. Michaels turns to our field with Through the Eyes of the Dead. Aileen Douglass and her partner Sharon Atwood run a private detecting agency in Berkeley. Business isn’t good — it rarely is in this business, with so many PI’s around — and it’s not helped when their only client gets himself killed.

   William MacMurray just wanted his wife found, with hope for a loving reunion; strange that this fond desire should get him shot. Meanwhile, Aileen surprises someone trying to hot-wire her car. Her glands — certainly not her brain — seem to take over, and she invites the would-be car thief, a gypsy, into her home. Soon she’s helping him rescue a sister, bullets are flying, and things are not at all what they seem.

   Pleasant.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bibliographic Notes:   Melisa C. Michaels’ contributions to the world of science fiction can be found here. This was the only appearance of PI’s Douglass and Atwood, but another female PI named Rosie Lavine appeared in two of her fantasy novels, both involving malevolent elves. Titles: Cold Iron (Roc, 1997) and Sister to the Rain (Roc, 1998). One source indicates that Lavine has a partner named Shannon Arthur, and that their PI agency is based in San Francisco. Douglass and Atwood are included on the Thrilling Detective website; Rosie Lavine is not.

 Posted by at 2:36 am
Aug 242014
 
REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


JOHN VAN DER ZEE – Stateline. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, hardcover, 1976. Pyramid, 1977.

   Similar in vein to Murder Plan, by John Bingham (reviewed here) is Stateline, by John van der Zee, which seems very 70s in parts (the heroine’s name is Rain, for instance) but come to think of it, a lot of 70s stuff seems rather 70s at times.

   The plot depends on the Police overlooking a rather obvious clue, and ignoring a bit of procedure that was SOP when I started Police Work in ’72, but the remarkable thing is that the characters and story are strong enough to hold the tale together despite this.

   Ferrell is a retired cop, working Security at a chintzy casino in Stateline, Nevada, and suffering from a near-terminal case of low self-esteem. One morning he’s handed an unusual Bad Check case: the author of the rubber has not skipped out, as most do, but is waiting around in his hotel room to be arrested.

   Ferrell tries to talk him into a settlement, but the man — who neither admits nor denies his guilt – refuses and is duly incarcerated pending trial. Ferrell warns his bosses that this may all be leading up to something tricky, but he can’t think what, and they press charges anyway — and when the plot explodes, they duly elect Ferrell as their scapegoat.

   As I say, there are holes here big as a roulette wheel, but there are also some very nice touches of characterization and a few telling incidents related with some skill: an early off-the-cuff detail of gamblers and tourists stepping over a heart-attack victim on their way to the tables, for instance, or scenes of Ferrell’s co-workers nervously shunning him as the corporate ax prepares to fall.

   All this, tied in with a plot that keeps moving to a neat, low-key wrap-up, make this one quite enjoyable.

Bibliographic Note:   John van der Zee (1936-   ) has one other title listed in Hubin, that being Blood Brotherhood (Harcourt, 1970). Says Kirkus of this earlier book, in part: “Somehow Mr. van der Zee [...] contrives to put forth this tale about the portentous murder of an Establishment-bucking labor leader as not only remotely possible but current.”

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Aug 222014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


LEWIS PADGETT [HENRY KUTTNER] – The Brass Ring. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, hardcover, 1946; Bantam Books #107, paperback, 1947, as Murder in Brass.

   A year earlier, Seth Colman had stopped participating actively in his detective agency. Although he was good at investigating, he had begun to hate the work. Despite his best efforts to avoid it, however, his wife, Eve, who has apparently seen too many Powell/Loy movies, gets him involved in trying to find a lunatic. As soon as Colman arrives on the scene in Westchester County, N.Y., the lunatic — or someone — commits murder.

   Not only does Eve show up to view, not necessarily take part in, the proceedings, but Colman is saddled with the assistance of Art Bednarian, who is interested in money only because it can buy booze and broads. Bednarian possibly possesses some form of telepathy, having been known to have spotted murderers through their “smell.” However, he also suspects females of varying crimes when they turn down his kind offers to take them to bed.

   Colman is a fascinating character, whose depths Padgett plumbs well. The ending is definitely not upbeat.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   According to both Hubin and Wikipedia, Lewis Padgett was the joint pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, a husband and wife team who are much more well-known as science fiction and fantasy authors. Under the Padgett byline they also wrote The Day He Died (Duell, 1947).

 Posted by at 9:02 pm
Aug 192014
 
THE ARMCHAIR REVIEWER
Allen J. Hubin


M. R. D. MEEK – A Mouthful of Sand. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1989. Worldwide, paperback, 1990. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1988.

   I quite like M.R.D. Meek’s stories about Lennox Kemp, and A Mouthful of Sand is no exception. Kemp, a lawyer, was barred from practice when he took money to pay his wife’s gambling debts. She disappeared along with his reputation, and he served a lonely six years’ penance as a private investigator.

   Now he’s back in the law, doing very well, having a relationship (albeit uneasy) with Penelope Marsden. His life is coming back together; perhaps he will marry Penelope and banish the loneliness he fears so much.

   Here a tycoon asks him for a written opinion on the state of British marriage law. Lennox complies, then [leaves] to go on vacation to Cornwall, coincidentally to the coastal town where the tycoon’s wife has gone to recover from severe depression. But her condition worsens, and the battered head of a man is found on the beach. Soon Kemp finds himself ensnared — heart and mind.

   Very effective storytelling, full of subtleties and dense with expressive language.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes: Since Lennox Kemp is a Private Eye, there’s no place better to look for information about than the Thrilling Detective website. There Kevin Burton Smith says, in part: “… while waiting to be reinstated (the events leading up to his disbarment are related in the first book in the series), he earns his daily bread as an op for the London-based McCready’s Detective Agency. But he is eventually reinstated, and this spare yet often elegant series, full of rich characterization, and sharp writing, continues, with Kemp as a particular hands-on type of attornney, part Perry Mason and part Lew Archer.”

   His creator was in real life Margaret Reid Duncan Meek (1918-2009), a retired lawyer.

       The Lennox Kemp series —

With Flowers That Fell (1983)

The Sitting Ducks (1984)
Hang the Consequences (1984)
The Split Second (1985)
In Remembrance of Rose (1986)

A Worm of Doubt (1987)
A Mouthful of Sand (1988)
A Loose Connection (1989)
This Blessed Plot (1990)
Touch and Go (1992)

Postscript to Murder (1996)
If You Go Down to the Woods (2001)
The Vanishing Point (2003)
Kemp’s Last Case (2004)

 Posted by at 11:58 pm
Aug 182014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


HENRI WEINER – Crime on the Cuff. William Morrow, hardcover, 1936.

   Cartoonists who are detectives are rare. Also infrequent are one-armed detectives. In this novel, John Brass combines the two as he investigates a dual kidnapping plus murder on his doorstep. Meant to be amusing and exciting, the novel fails on both scores.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   This is the one of two mystery novels by author Stephen Longstreet (1907-20020, published under this name. The other is The Case of the Severed Skull, a paperback reprint of Death Walks on Cat Feet (1938), published in hardcover as by Paul Haggard.

   Also in the late 30s Longstreet wrote three other works of crime fiction as by Haggard, all three with a series character named Mike Warlock, about whom I know nothing, in spite of the interesting sounding name.

   As a literary novelist and playwright, Stephen Longstreet turns out to be significant enough to have a Wikipedia page of his own, and as a screenwriter, even more credits on IMDb. Says the biography page for him there: “Studied in Paris and at Rutgers and Harvard Universities, graduating from the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (Parsons) in 1929. [...] Writer, cartoonist, and painter. He published over one hundred novels and five books on jazz, illustrated with his own drawings and watercolors.”

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Aug 112014
 

JOSEPHINE PULLEIN-THOMPSON – They Died in the Spring. Hammond Hammon & Co., UK, hardcover, 1960. Linford Mystery Library, UK, softcover, 1990. No US edition.

   This is the second of three recorded cases that Chief-Inspector James Flecker of Scotland Yard is known to have worked on. The first was Gin and Murder (1959), the third and final one was Murder Strikes Pink (1963). They Died in the Spring takes place in April, not surprisingly, in a part of England called Bretfordshire, where a retired Colonel has been found shot to death. An accident, it is thought at first – the old gentleman is found fallen in a woods with his shotgun nearby — but gradually it becomes clear that it is a case of murder instead.

   That Colonel Barclay had recently announced his intention to plough over the local cricket field, land which in truth he owned, may have led someone in respond in anger, but the Colonel was the sort of person who seems to have made enemies easily. But what could be the connection between his death and that of a young female German house servant in the neighborhood? The case is too much for the local police force, and Flecker is called in to assist.

   Much of what follows is tedious police work. Lots of questions, lots of answers, not all of which agree which each other, lots of notes taken on the backs of envelopes, lots of conferring with Detective-Sergeant Browning, who is working with Flecker on the case. There is something of a Midsomer Murders feel to the investigation, except that Inspector Barnaby is happily married, while Flecker has regrets.

   From pages 122-123:

   He [Fletcher] felt detached and solitary among the pleasure-seeking family parties and fell to reckoning how old his children would be by now if he and Pauline had stayed together ad had them. […] He shook himself and superimposed the gray shadow of police pay and promotion across his mental picture of the blue and white sitting-room. Though he was a useful backroom boy, he was hardly the sort to rise high; he was too impatient of routine, too unconventional. He’d need superintendent’s pay at least to marry the sort of woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life and, by the time he had it, ho would be bald, eccentric and egocentric and have false teeth. He sighed and turned his mind back to the case.

   The case is, one must admit, rather routine, consisting largely of the breaking down of alibis. As an author, Pullein-Thompson seems more adept at describing the local countryside in a fashion that caught my attention more than did the case itself.

   From page 131:

   Ten minutes brought him [Flecker] to the spot in the larch plantation where Colonel Barclay had died, and he stood there for a time, lost in thought. The larches had not yet grown tall enough to shade the track and so, at Flecker’s feet, primroses raised pale, naïve faces and flamboyant dandelions, the extroverts of the spring flowers splashed their exuberant yellow among the grass. It was very quiet; Sunday had stilled the tractors, and Flecker collected the sounds one by one. Somewhere away on the hill a dog barked, there was the distant angry moo of a protesting cow, nearer two birds sang, and in the yellow flowers of a self-sown sallow beside the tracks, the bees droned ceaselessly. Man oughtn‘t to do his dirty work in such places, thought Flecker, he should murder beside the railway line or behind the gasworks, but then he reminded himself that a week ago the woods had not looked like this and that track had been a cold grim place.

   I confess that I didn’t follow the investigation all that closely, but I definitely enjoyed the book, especially the ending, which had nothing to do with nabbing the killer, but which took me by surprise. I had to look back and check to see, but yes, the clues were all there.

R.I.P. JOSEPHINE PULLEIN-THOMPSON (1924-2014). Besides the three Flecker mysteries, Josephine Pullein-Thompson was far better known in England for her pony books written primary for girls. According to her online obituary in The Guardian on 22 June 2014, “In the equestrian novels that she, her mother Joanna Cannan and her younger twin sisters Diana and Christine, wrote – nearly 200 between them – riding horses was also the way that girls could show that they were just as good as boys, if not better. Their heroines relished mucking out stables and the freedom of galloping away across the countryside, and the pluckiest were able to turn bedraggled nags into rosette-winning champions, later returning home to celebrate with a truly ‘supersonic tea’.”

   Joanna Cannan, by the way, was also a mystery writer, with some thirteen works of crime and detective fiction included in Hubin.

 Posted by at 12:19 pm
Aug 042014
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   My July column, the longest I’ve ever written, was completely devoted to the Mike Hammer TV series of 1958-59 but there are a couple of related items that I couldn’t squeeze in last time. I trust no Hammerhead will mind if I begin with these.

   Two questions surrounding the series caught my attention as I was fiddling with the column. First, was there a Hammer pilot episode and if so which was it? The order of original broadcast in New York or any other city doesn’t help because it was different in every market and completely up to the station owning the local rights. Copyright registration dates don’t help either, nor does the order in which they appear on the recently released DVD set. If the episodes had production numbers, I haven’t been able to find them.

   However, I think I’ve solved the puzzle while slowly making my way through the set. Throughout the series the role of Hammer’s friendly enemy Captain Pat Chambers is played by Bart Burns. But in one early segment there’s a plainclothes cop who’s referred to only as Pat but is clearly meant to be Chambers. The actor who plays him is not Bart Burns but Ted De Corsia, who also played Sergeant Velie for much of the run of the Adventures of Ellery Queen on radio.

   The episode is “Death Takes an Encore,” directed by Richard Irving and written by Frank Kane based on one of his short stories about New York PI Johnny Liddell (“Return Engagement,” Manhunt, February 1955, collected in Johnny Liddell’s Morgue, Dell pb #A117, 1956). For my money, that was the pilot.

   The second question also involves Frank Kane. Back in the late Forties he wrote around 45 scripts for that classic radio series The Shadow, and for several years there have been rumors that at least one of his Hammer scripts was a rewrite of one of his Shadow scripts. But which?

   I believe I’ve solved that puzzle too. Another early episode written by Kane, “Letter Edged in Blackmail,” shares a springboard with Kane’s Shadow script “Etched with Acid” (March 17, 1946): the protagonist in both tries to shut down a racket in which wealthy women with heavy gambling debts are forced to fake robberies of their own jewels. As neither Mike Hammer nor The Shadow would ever dream of saying: Q.E.D.

***

   Death has claimed two actors who were well known for having played TV detectives. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was the first to go. He died on May 2 at age 95, reportedly while mowing the lawn of his house in the horse-ranching community of Solvang, California.

   People of my generation first got to know Zimbalist on the Warner Bros. TV series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), in which he starred as ultra-suave PI Stuart Bailey. No sooner had that series left the air than he started playing Federal agent Lewis Erskine on the even longer-running The FBI (1965-74).

   When I met him — very briefly, at a film festival in Memphis — he was over 80 and still looked great. Judging from the photos of him I found on the Web, he still looked great in his 90s. Way to go! May we all be so lucky.

   The other recently deceased tele-icon was James Garner, who at age 86 was found dead in his Los Angeles home on July 19. Like Zimbalist he was best known for two long-running TV series but his were in different genres.

   His earliest claim to fame was as star of the Warner Bros. Western series Maverick (1957-63) but his interest for us stems from his years playing an un-macho PI in The Rockford Files (1974-80).

   In his autobiography The Garner Files (2011) he claimed that Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford were basically the same character, but he never said and probably never knew that the character from which both were sort of spun off was an icon of U.S. detective fiction, namely that quintessential American wiseass Archie Goodwin.

   I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if only there had been a Nero Wolfe movie with the middle-aged Orson Welles as Wolfe and the young Garner as Archie!

***

   Both Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip were created by the same man, who was also a co-producer and, as John Thomas James, a frequent scriptwriter for The Rockford Files .

   He first came to attention, however, as a mystery novelist. Roy Huggins (1914-2002) debuted in the genre with The Double Take (1946), whose protagonist, PI Stuart Bailey, was a character and first-person narrator owing a great deal to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and very different from the suave and perhaps a bit bland Bailey of 77 Sunset Strip.

   Anthony Boucher’s review for the San Francisco Chronicle (February 3, 1946) was spot on as usual: “Mr. Huggins adds nothing to the established hardboiled formula but does an unusually able job within its possibly overfamiliar frame.”

   At that time, with Dashiell Hammett having written nothing since The Thin Man (1934), “the established hardboiled formula” meant Chandler. The latter may not have read The Double Take himself but he clearly found out about it and, as witness his letter to fellow pulp veteran Cleve F. Adams (September 4, 1948), he was not amused.

   “I don’t know Roy Huggins and have never laid eyes on him. He sent me an autographed copy of his book … with his apologies and the dedication he says the publishers would not let him put in it. In writing to thank him I said his apologies were either unnecessary or inadequate and that I could name three or four writers who had gone as far as he had, without his frankness about it …. I personally think that a deliberate attempt to lift a writer’s personal tricks, his stock in trade, his mannerisms, his approach to his material, can be carried too far — to the point where it is a kind of plagiarism, and a nasty kind because the law gives no protection…. Somebody who read Huggins’ book told me that it was full of scenes which were modeled in detail on scenes in my books, just moved over enough to get by.”

   Somebody else informed Chandler that “the publishers told Huggins, in effect, that it was bad enough for him to steal my approach and my method or whatever, but stealing my characters was going a little too far. I understand there was some rewriting, but cannot vouch for any of this.”

   The letter to Adams can be found in Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, ed. Frank MacShane (1981), pp. 125-126. This is the only reference to Huggins in the index to MacShane’s book, but a careful reader will find Chandler revisiting the incident in later correspondence. Writing to spy novelist and later Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt on November 16, 1952, he says:

   “As you may know, writers like Dashiell Hammett and myself have been widely and ruthlessly imitated, so closely as to amount to a moral plagiarism…. I have had stories taken scene by scene and just lightly changed here and there. I have had lines of dialogue taken intact, bits of description also word for word. I have no recourse. The law doesn’t call it plagiarism.”

   Exactly nine months later, on September 16, 1953, writing to a master at his alma mater Dulwich College, he adds a bit more detail to the story.

   “A few years ago a man wrote a story which was a scene by scene steal from one of mine. He changed names and incidents just enough to stay inside the law…. The publisher to whom the book was sent demanded indignantly of the agent submitting it how he dared send them a book by Chandler under a pseudonym without saying so. When he learned that I had not had anything to do with the book he demanded certain changes to tone down the blatancy of the imitation and then published it. It did very well too.”

   These quotations come respectively from pp. 334 and 352 of MacShane’s collection.

   Huggins’ Hollywood career began when The Double Take sold to the movies and he was hired to write the screenplay for what was released as I Love Trouble (1948), with Franchot Tone as Bailey. By the time Chandler died, in 1959, Huggins had created Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip and both series were prime-time hits, but the creator of Philip Marlowe watched very little TV and may never have known that a sardonic prophecy he had made in his letter to Cleve Adams had come true:

   “More power to Mr. Huggins. If he has been traveling on borrowed gas to any extent, the time will come when he will have to spew his guts into his own tank.”

   Which is precisely what Huggins did.

 Posted by at 12:10 am
Jul 262014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


OSMINGTON MILLS – At One Fell Swoop. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1963. Roy, US, hardcover, 1965.

   Aware that the case won’t do his career any good, Superintendent William Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch nonetheless undertakes the investigation of the missing head of the C.I.D. in Bramwith. The policeman, a lay preacher in the Johnsonite sect, had disappeared shortly before he was to address a centenary celebration of the sect, if the Johnsonites can be said to celebrate.

   Since the policeman’s wife had tried to divorce him for cruelty and now has a lover, she and the lover are the first suspects, if there has indeed been foul play. Information also turns up that the C.I.D. man had with him on his travels two warrants; perhaps the individuals sought made sure that the warrants would not be served.

   Possible, too, is the involvement of the police superintendent where the C.I.D. man was going to serve the warrants. But what role does the leek slasher play?

   A good investigation by Baker and his assistant, Inspector Hughes, and an engrossing portrait of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Forgive the far-fetched coincidences and enjoy this one.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.


BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTES:

      The Insp. (Supt.) William Baker series —

Unlucky Break. Bles, 1955.
The Case of the Flying Fifteen. , Bles, 1956.
No Match for the Law. Bles, 1957.
Misguided Missile. Bles 1958.
Stairway to Murder. Bles, 1959.
Trial by Ordeal. Bles, 1961.
Headlines Make Murder. Bles, 1962.
At One Fell Swoop. Bles, 1963.
Traitor Betrayed. Bles, 1964.
Enemies of the Bride. Bles, 1966.

   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks (1922-2002), whose other series, eight in all, recorded the cases of Chief Insp. Rupert “Rip” Irving and P.C. (Sgt.) Patrick C. Shirley.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm